American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 49, Issue 2 (2013)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


A famous tale talks about three baseball umpires who were asked how they rule on a ball. One said, “I call it like I see it.” Another said, “I call it like it is.” And the last one (and this is attributed to umpire Bill Klem) said, “It ain’t nothin’ till I call it.” While the first umpire admitted he was an imperfect human observer, the second and third umpires claimed they were infallible and judged cases only based on their objective merits. So, what can be said about court judges? Are court judges such impartial rulers that they can “call it like it is”? Or, as the first umpire humbly confessed, are they limited human observers confined by the boundaries of human cognition?

In this article, we briefly review some of the accumulating evidence suggesting that in some cases judges could be prone to cognitive fallacies and biases that might affect their judicial decisions. We review several studies on cognitive biases relating to elements of the hearing process (considering evidence and information), ruling, or sentencing. These findings suggest that irrelevant factors that should not affect judgment might cause systemic and predictable biases in judges’ decision-making processes in a way that could be explained using known cognitive heuristics and biases.